Thursday, 4 December 2008

Cricket and Terrorism

Being a huge cricket fan, I've been following the story of the England cricket team's response to the Mumbai terrorist attacks via http://www.cricinfo.com/. Of course I'm fascinated by the batting and bowling stuff but it's also interesting to see how people react under pressure.

As soon as the attacks happened, the England team flew home from India. This is fairly logical - Mumbai was their next stop and in fact their gear had already been sent on ahead of them to one of the hotels at the centre of the attacks. I believe it's still there.

There followed a debate about whether the team would return for the test series, demands for a "presidential" level of security, talk of some players not touring no matter what, and so on.  It went without saying that the test scheduled for Mumbai would be moved to another city. As of now it seems a full strength team is heading back to a training base in Abu Dhabi, with the commencement of the Test series likely but still dependent on security checks. The fact that about 8 backup players have been named seems to suggest that some players are still wavering.

Now wind back to England, 7 July 2005. Australia and England were playing a one-day match in the leadup to the Ashes and I tuned in the the SBS coverage one evening to see not cricket but coverage of the terrorist attacks in London which killed 56 people, injured hundreds and paralysed the London transport system.

The cricket, however, had not been cancelled - the broadcasters just thought the terrorist attack was more important. Admittedly the game was a couple of hundred miles away in Leeds, but only three days later, with the cleanup still going on, the two teams moved to London where they stayed for two weeks, despite another less serious attack on July 21 right in the middle of the Lords test.

You might think that Australia's cricketers are less nervous than England's, but this is the same Australian team that has refused to tour Pakistan a number of times in recent years because of security concerns. The Australians, along with the South Africans, English and New Zealanders, were branded "nervous Nellies" by both Indian and Pakistani authorities when they scuttled the 2008 Champions Trophy set to take place in Pakistan because of political instability there.

This makes me think that something else is at work. Should I call it racism? Perhaps that's too strong, but certainly Australian cricketers feel safe in England, (despite the fact that the London terrorists were English residents, as opposed to the Mumbai terrorists who snuck in from Pakistan), and the English feel the same way about Australia. You'd have to think that they feel comfortable there not because they have less chance of being bombed but because they feel at home in the culture. They speak the same language, they obey the same rules of decorum, they use the same body language, they have the same sense of personal space. On the other hand, Anglo cricketers feel constantly harried on the Indian sub-continent. The population is so much denser, people are so much louder, and they crowd around and insist on contact with the players in a away that seems belligerent and threatening to Anglos. Because of this, it doesn't take much extra to push them to a point where they feel unsafe.

In actual fact no international cricket team has yet been the subject of a terrorist attack. Instead it's been ordinary people going about their low-key daily business - riding the train to work, attending a family wedding, having a family holiday, going shopping...

Meanwhile the Indian cricket team is threatening to cancel a forthcoming tour of Pakistan. Because of safety concerns? No, because Indians are mad as hell with Pakistan over the fact that the Mumbai attackers were Pakistanis. Of course their organsiation is illegal in Pakistan, and none of the Pakistan cricket team is known to belong to it (most are devout members of a pacifist branch of Islam) but after all a Pakistani is a Pakistani. Us Anglos don't have any sort of monopoly on racism.

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